I am positive I have spent lots of time on this blog thanking my husband for being so supportive of my creative pursuits. In his eyes, every sock I knit is a piece of perfection, each pencil drawing a masterpiece. I know I can’t be as smart, talented, and just plain cute as he says I am ! When I decided to try a blog he was cheering me on all the way. I know each blog post I publish will always have at least one kind comment thanks to him, my most faithful reader. He always says after reading a post, ” I could never have written something like this”‘ or “I never would have thought of that”. And I always reply, “Of course you could!” And now, guess what? He has! And because he has, Mindfulmagpie has its very first guest writer! Enjoy!
As far back as I can remember I have always loved calendars. To have such an affection for what many may view as just a utilitarian item may seem odd, but this love affair actually traces back to one of my favorite places on earth. Every year growing up, my family vacationed in Montreat, NC, a place well known to any Presbyterian and certainly even more so to someone who grew up as the son of a Presbyterian minister.
Envision a place nestled among the mountains where the entire town is your backyard chock full of fun adventures like fishing, swimming, canoeing, hiking, rock hopping, mountain climbing, making arts and crafts, playing all sorts of sports or simply relaxing beside a waterfall, reading a good book. Many Presbyterians consider it heaven on earth. My three siblings and I have had a lifelong connection with this idyllic place. Every year during our stay, we would buy a “Montreat” calendar for the following year. As I grew older and started my own family, my parents would bring me back a calendar on their trip there even when it was not possible for me to go.
So how could a calendar bring such joy from childhood all the way through to adulthood? What better reminder of your fun filled vacation than a calendar filled with pictures of the place where you made most cherished memories? While the pictures were not exclusively photos from the Montreat area, they were of western North Carolina and almost all from the Smoky Mountains, another regular destination for our vacation. Each year the calendar would bring another twelve months of remarkable photos taken by Andy Andrews and each month the photo would show a scene of how it might look in that month. With this gem on our wall at home all year, we would get a constant reminder of that special place every time we glanced at the calendar to check a date.
Sadly, this tradition came to an end when the photographer died sometime after the start of the new millennium. And even more sadly, no one picked up the torch of Andy’s enduring activity. I know I was devastated when this ended and I am sure my siblings were as well when 2002 became our last “Montreat” calendar. For a couple of years, I tried finding other calendars from the Smoky Mountains to extend the magic but they never lived up to the original calendars.
After this failed attempt, I floundered for a few years trying calendars depicting other beautiful scenes but never found a worthy substitute. At some point, and now I don’t recall how, I came up with the idea of making my own calendar. This opened up a whole new palette for me but the challenge was deciding what photos to use. I knew I could never recreate the Montreat calendars since I didn’t live in the area and I certainly couldn’t take monthly trips to take photographs. But I knew I wanted to capture imagines of something else as close to my heart.
During my years of calendar floundering, my international travels led me to a new discovery. Having visited The Netherlands for many years for business reasons, I finally arrived in the perfect time of year to visit Keukenhof Gardens, an enormous park in Lisse, a short ride from Leiden. The gardens allow only a short two-month season to enjoy the splendor of seven million bulbs in bloom.
Visiting Keukenhof surrounded by thousands of blooming, fragrant hyacinths awakened in me a previously hidden love for flowers. While none of my siblings had ever been there to see it and it certainly held no childhood memories, this was surely where my calendaring efforts should go.
My first attempt at making a calendar was pretty basic and very amateurish. But having a trove of photos from six separate visits to Keukenhof, I launched in undaunted. I purchased an inexpensive software package for my computer and hand picked each photo trying as much as possible to pick a theme or color scheme that tied in with an event occurring in that month (orange flowers in October, reds and greens in December). I printed each calendar page and each photo on an InkJet printer (boy did I go through the print cartridges) making sure the prior calendar month was oriented correctly on the back of the current month photo and then hand assembled them for spiral binding at a local photocopy shop. I even punched the hang hole at the top of each page when I found out it would be an extra $5 just to have the holes punched during the spiral binding process.
I was so proud of my creation that I turned our playroom into a mini manufacturing shop floor and manually created three more to give one to each of my siblings for Christmas. While the location meant nothing to my siblings other than some pretty flowers, it was my best attempt to replace the Montreat calendar. Having gotten positive feedback from my first attempt, a second Keukenhof calendar came off my manual presses the next year as I had only scratched the surface of my vast supply of literally hundreds of Keukenhof photos.
Next year, I became aware of the magic of iPhoto and the built-in calendar creating function, having become a recent convert from PC to Apple. Wow, what I could do with this software and the professional looking calendars printed by Apple! With just the click of a single button, my calendar could be electronically transmitted, professionally printed by Apple and then sent by return mail in just a few short days. This certainly solved my technology problem, but what of my subject? Someone probably only wants so many pictures of flowers; I had to find a new subject.
Returning to my roots in 2010, I fulfilled a long held dream of driving the entire 469 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP). In addition to being a lovely scenic drive, the BRP held fond memories from my childhood for the multiple side trips we had also taken every year on the short drive to Mt. Mitchell, the tallest peak east of the Mississippi River and favorite cook out spot above the clouds. As a child, I always envisioned as my Dad drove us there what fun it would be to drive it in a little sports car and since the Parkway goes right through Asheville, NC, just 35 miles west of Montreat, I could combine a stop there for my picturing taking as well. Armed with a nice digital SLR and the knowledge of improved calendar technology at home, I set out to photograph “The Calendar of All Time.”
Since my wife had no desire to take a vacation to drive almost 500 miles just for the sake of driving on a road, I set off alone in my little red convertible for what ended up being a combined 2000 miles over five days including the round trip to and from Memphis just to get there. I combined the BRP with a drive on the 105 mile Skyline Drive which ends at mile marker 0 for the BRP. To say the trip was a success is an understatement. Being alone on such a long trip gives one a long time to reflect and reminisce.
There were beautiful scenes to see and photograph, tears of happiness, but also tears of childhood loss and remembrances of times gone by. Some of these emotions came to me as I was driving or shooting a certain spot but many came to me at night when I was alone scrolling through the day’s photos. For someone who loves cars, loves to drive and loves that area of the country, it truly was the trip of a lifetime.
That December I carefully assembled the calendar with my new technology, taking care to ensure that each month’s theme was appropriately represented in the selected photo. How magical it was to include a rural mountaintop barn in front of a live Christmas tree farm for the month of December!
Putting the calendars in the mail that cold December morning, I imagined my siblings feeling swept away with joy and memories as they opened their envelope realizing we would once again be joined together, though miles apart, gazing at a “Montreat” calendar daily throughout the coming year.